Opponents Of City’s East River Park Resiliency Project Sue For More Transparency

A group of East Village residents opposed to a flood protection plan involving rebuilding the East River Park has sued City Hall—again—to try and halt the project.

This time, the East River Park Action group is suing for additional documents that the city used as its basis for the resiliency project—which was overhauled in 2018.

Already, the city has partially relented, releasing a newer version with fewer redactions days after the lawsuit. But the group is still trying to stop the flood protection project from moving forward.

“To me, now, it raises even more suspicions,” said Jonathan Lefkowitz, an East Village resident and member of the East River Park Action group suing City Hall. “Why do we have to go through all of this?”

The $1.45 billion project, for which construction preparations began last fall, would elevate the East River Park 8- to 10-feet higher with a series of flood walls on the either end of the park. The resiliency design is aimed to protect residents from flooding like that of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy—which devastated the East Village and Lower East Side neighborhoods—and from sea level rise caused by climate change. This plan is the newer version of an earlier project that would have built a flood wall along FDR Drive and not required the entire park to be rebuilt.

In January, the East River Park Action group filed a public records request for an 2018 engineering study to better understand the reasoning for the project change that left residents feeling blindsided. The city and the group sparred for three months over what parts of the study could be released under public records laws, with some redactions removed from the Office of Management and Budget report, according to the April 2nd lawsuit. The city “erred in concluding that the requested communications are exempt from disclosure,” the lawsuit reads. The East River Park Action group, various residents, Grand Street Democrats, and a number of candidates running for office joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs.

Days after the lawsuit was filed, Councilmember Carlina Rivera announced that City Hall would be releasing additional documents from those 2018 reviews.

“As my office reviews these documents, I will continue to demand that the administration address the concerns of the Community Advisory Group, advocates, and neighbors as construction continues on these desperately needed climate resiliency measures for our East Side communities,” Rivera said in a statement. The councilmember has been scrutinized for her overall support of the project, which she ultimately helped greenlight through the public review process after securing a staggered construction timeline to allow for parts of East River Park to remain open during the estimated 5-year rebuild.

The 347-page engineering document, updated four days after the lawsuit was filed, still has multiple pages redacted. The Department of Design and Construction, the lead agency for the east side resiliency project, told another community oversight group that the remaining redactions were due to “security concerns.”

Lefkowitz said that the value engineering study may also reveal information for another lawsuit the group filed last year, which argued the project needed state legislature approval to rebuild the park. That lawsuit was dismissed last summer.

“They’re basically cutting off lots of people from a park and providing no alternatives, no viable alternatives,” Lefkowitz said.

The activist group has been fighting the revamped plan since it was announced in 2018. The group prefers the earlier version of the plan, which would have built a flood wall along the FDR Drive, keeping much of the park intact but allowing it to flood during storms like Sandy, while still protecting residents from storm surges.

The project is partially funded through $338 million in federal money allocated after Sandy, which must be spent by next year.

The city’s Law Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit, nor did the DDC or City Hall.